Success of high school entrepreneur shows there’s more than one way out
The positive message behind 1WayOut has spread among the Sto-Rox athletics community.
By Jamie Wiggan
Since he was a young child, 18-year-old Isiah Davis has known he wants to exceed the narrow horizons thrust upon the youth in his struggling community. He’s not yet sure exactly what that will look like, but he now at least knows his abundant talent and focus give him options.
“Growing up, we all just thought it was football that could get us out,” Davis said. “But honestly, everybody has something bigger, deeper inside them that can make them special.”
Football remains very much a factor in the Sto-Rox linebacker's plans for future success, but he’s also found his bigger and deeper side as the co-founder of an apparel brand built around a positive message: 1WayOut. Two years after establishing the branding, Davis has been identified as one of the region’s leading young entrepreneurs by Junior Achievement's inaugural 18 Under Eighteen program.
Launched this year, the program “celebrates 18 extraordinary students that are defining their generation through their entrepreneurial spirit, leadership, and service to their communities.”
Junior Achievement of Western Pennsylvania is a non-profit organization that seeks to inspire and equip young students to achieve future success.
While the 1WayOut message may at first seem to suggest there’s only a narrow path to a better future, Davis says it really means the opposite.
“It means you’re gonna find one way or another to be successful,” he said.
“We’ve seen everything that’s going on in the community, it felt like a cycle, everybody just making the same mistakes… that’s where it really started, was giving people the idea we could see more than just here.”
Davis’s business partner Taiwan La’Rue knows firsthand what’s at stake from lacking the right focus as an adolescent. The 22-year-old linebacker caught the attention of University of Pittsburgh coaches during his junior year at Sto-Rox, but was ultimately unable to join the team because he failed to prioritize academics.
After hearing the news, he tried to improve his grades to reopen the closed door, but as a second-semester junior, it was too late. So instead, La’Rue began mentoring younger students, sharing with them the advice he never received.
“I wish I had someone who was telling me to get good grades at school,” he said.
Fortunately, La’Rue was able to keep his dreams alive by playing football at two competitive community colleges. He’s currently taking a break while evaluating next steps.
As a mentee, Davis not only learned from the advice of an older friend, he also latched onto a business idea La’Rue devised to help spread his message. As well as encouraging others to find their “one way” to success, the name also stems from La’Rue’s sporting alias.
“I wore [the No. 1 jersey], so I started calling myself one-way,” he said. “Then it’s like, the area we live in, the poverty and violence, and it’s like, you want to get out of here.”
The brand – and the message – has since caught on in the community. The duo sell around 4-5 hoodies each week, and spend the profits on improving the business.
New Sto-Rox football coach Marvin Mills said he’s already perceived its impact on the team culture and of the wider school community.
“That’s something all the kids have bought into…They’ve taken it and they’ve lived by it,” Mills said. “That’s one of my biggest goals all the time – you have sports, which you take advantage of, but use the sports and the opportunities to take it to the next level, and apply it to life.”
Davis stresses, however, the branding is not just about sports culture, and his 3.6 GPA shows he also lives by this message in the classroom.
Joe Herzing, a Sto-Rox high school guidance counselor, has watched Davis develop the 1WayOut branding while quietly excelling as a student throughout the past two years. When Herzing learned of the 18 Under Eighteen program, he said he immediately knew Davis would be an “ideal candidate.”
“I’m very proud of him,” Hering said. “It’s a huge recognition.”